The crucial thing that separates content marketers from copywriters is strategy. Rather than creating content based on a paint-by-numbers brief, the content marketing process invariably starts with ideation – and coming up with the goods can be challenging without some idea of where to start. Especially if you’re expecting the proverbial lightning bolt to strike.
If you’re looking at a collection of pretty good content ideas and feeling uninspired on the whole, chances are your audience will feel equally ambivalent. Greatness may be an abstract idea, and subsequently hard to execute, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be an airtight action plan for finding great content ideas.
Here’s how we do it.
Who are you speaking to?
Knowing your audience is critical to the success of your content marketing – not only in terms of finding those super-relevant search queries and creating a basis for your promo plan, but also (and especially) with regards to the content you choose to create.
Writing the content you want rather than the content your audience needs is a fatal error. It can be all too easy to get a little self-indulgent when it comes to creating content – and it must be said that believing you would click and read the piece you’ve written is often a reliable indicator that others would too. However, approaching content from a perspective of ‘what interests me?’ rather than ‘what interests my customers?’ doesn’t exactly guarantee lucrative online traffic.
Drawing up audience personas (either figuratively or literally) gives you the opportunity to put a face on your typical customer and get to know their traits, tastes and triggers on a more intimate level – which means you can create content that’s lovingly made with their needs in mind.
“You don’t have to be psychic. You just have to put in a little bit of elbow grease, and you can make things that will perform far better for your customers, for your community, and for your business”
Rand Fishkin, Moz
Who’s getting it right?
Competitor research is non-negotiable when it comes to your long-term content strategy. Ripping off what your rivals are putting out is far from revolutionary – and if they’re working with a bigger audience (which translates as greater reach for any content they publish), the best case scenario is that you manage to produce a less successful equivalent of their popular post.
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but attempts to emulate competitive content are ultimately a waste of time. Instead of flattering your direct competitors, beat them at their own game. Use their best performing pieces as a recipe for your content creation, adding your own secret ingredients to transform something good into something truly great. For example: if they’ve found some success with a text post on, let’s say, bathroom furniture ideas, just think how your sexy multimedia content on bathroom colour schemes – complete with Pinterest colour swatch embeds – will perform.
Finding competitive content is easy, but it takes a little more time, effort and resource to track down the posts that have outperformed all others. Luckily, the SEO gods are merciful and have created a host of life-saving software designed to make discovering content opportunities a breeze.
SEMrush is an essential resource for the analytical SEO, providing a host of analytics reports, tools and campaign tracking options. Offering users the ability to explore keywords in immense depth – exploring related terms, tracking positions in SERPs and identifying the terms your competitors are ranking for – SEMrush delivers the data you need to form the basis of an informed and effective content strategy
Open Site Explorer is the Moz research tool that helps you hunt for backlinks. Simply drop the URL of your choice into the search bar and set OSE away – the tool then quickly returns a complete list of all links pointed at the page in question. Analysing external links to your competitors’ content allows you to identify which pieces have performed particularly well and use this knowledge as a basis for your own content plan.
Majestic takes pride of place in every credible content marketing toolkit. Crucial from ideation to the measurement process, Majestic gives content marketers a means of identifying high performing content – as well as the people who deem the content link-worthy. As the ‘largest commercial Link Intelligence database in the world’, this powerful online tool is the most insightful and up-to-date means of link profile analysis available to the modern content marketer.
What’s flying on social media?
Social proof is serious currency where content marketing is concerned, to the point that we can assume any post that’s been ‘liked’, shared, retweeted, pinned or regrammed a bunch of times is of legitimate value – regardless of what that value may be. Sometimes it’s controversy that gets the share counter going, other times it’s because a topic is relatable on a personal level – and more often than not, it’s pure actionability.
There are a ton of ways to identify which content is kicking off on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn – and this is a crucial stage of the research process if your ultimate goal is to achieve a superior level of social success.
BuzzSumo is the ultimate provider when it comes to social proof. Helping you to explore any topic or domain for posts which have killed it on social media, BuzzSumo is a treat for content marketers everywhere – harnessing the power of online endorsement to create a foolproof idea generator for any industry.
Topsy is a social analytics tool created to help marketers find influencers and content ideas on Twitter. Make a search and watch Topsy return links, tweets, photos, videos and influential users relevant to your query – using the site’s findings to your advantage when informing your own content marketing strategy.
Experimenting and evolving
The drawing board is an exciting place to be for any content marketer. This moment of pure potential is as terrific as it is terrifying and deciding where to start can often be the trickiest part. The truth is that there are a ton of weird and wonderful ways to generate content ideas, no matter what industry you’re exploring – but the method that’s right for you depends entirely on the way you work best.
In the complex and fast-paced world of content marketing, it can be reassuring to know you’ve got a nice big handful of good ideas in your back pocket at any given time. Keeping a scrapbook or swipe file of as yet unused evergreen content ideas means you’ve got a constant supply of backups which can be used for convenience or built upon further down the line for bigger impact.
This file, whether physical or digital, will always be a work in progress – so make it as easy as possible not only to cherry pick existing ideas you’ve stashed away, but also to make additions as and when they occur to you.
Whether it’s done alone or as a group, brainstorming is about as old as cave paintings and it’s not getting any less popular. From one-man ventures to Moz HQ, all content creators swear by the spider diagram – the idea being that an engaging mosaic of related topics beats a static list any day.
The major benefit of a brainstorming session is the way ideas can ripple out into bigger and better ones simply through the act of presenting them in a map-like format. Remove the constraints that come with creating a fixed sequence of ideas and embrace the advantages of abstract thinking.
Truly efficient ideation is a dream every content marketer shares – the prospect of a real eureka moment that’s instantaneous and inimitable. Finding good ideas quickly is a bit of a monumental task, especially if the only resource at your disposal is your own brain. Instead, see what the combined power of 6 brains will do for your content strategy.
The tried and tested 6-5-3 method is one of the most simple and elegant ideation techniques in use today: 6 people, 5 minutes, 3 ideas. Get together with 5 of your most creative colleagues and sit around a meeting table – decide on the client, or even drill down into the specific topic, then each spend 5 minutes coming up with 3 content ideas off the top of your head which fit the brief. Pass the paper to your right after each 5 minute period until you’ve got yours back, and hey presto – 108 fresh ideas with just 30 minutes of collective brain power.
A content marketing strategy that puts the purchase funnel at the forefront is sure to impact your conversion rate. Understanding how you can bring prospective customers to the site long before they’re ready to buy gives you a far better chance of getting them to convert when that time comes – and the humble flowchart offers an ideal way to incorporate the funnel into your content ideas.
Working on the basis that every segment of your online audience is looking for something different when it comes to content, creating a flowchart that earmarks potential topics suited to readers at every stage of the buying cycle will help you engage everyone from passive browsers to purchase-ready customers.
To many businesses, short-term traffic may seem like short-lived success – but one runaway post on a super-timely topic can create brand awareness you’ll be able to dine on for the foreseeable future. All it takes is one well-timed triumph to permeate the trend bubble and become a credible resource in your own right.
We doubt there’ll ever be a time that newsjacking loses its deserving spot in the content marketing lineup. The idea that you can pounce on a red hot topic the whole world is talking about and subtly shift the conversation towards your brand, without anyone even realising you’ve changed the subject, is an exhilarating one as a content marketer.
It goes without saying (we hope) that marketers can’t predict the future – so celebrity scandals, pop culture explosions and political landmines aren’t the sorts of things we can build a long-term content strategy on. What we can do, though, is keep one eye on the calendar year so we know where some of our next seasonal content is coming from.
Creating and maintaining an editorial calendar is one of the most rigorous ways to keep your content creation and publishing schedules in perfect alignment – and guarantee that any content ideas or brainwaves you have, significantly prior to an event, don’t dissipate and die. HubSpot (AKA the big daddy of inbound) provides, among so many other things, a downloadable editorial calendar template ideal for stringing your great content ideas together into an amazing content strategy. Or if you’d prefer a calendar hot-wired into your CMS, you’d better believe WordPress has a plugin for that.
What does a great idea look like?
This is kind of like asking what ‘delicious’ tastes like, and of course there’s no definitive answer – certainly not one all marketers would agree on.
In the interest of kicking up a fuss, we’re going to give you our slant on what exactly ‘great’ means when it comes to a content idea:
- Relevant – to your audience, your industry and your site or blog as a whole. Put simply, does the content fit on your website?
- Informed – so based on high performing competitor content, industry hot topics and/or a topic that has worked well for you in the past. Do the numbers suggest this post will perform?
- Unique – in terms of subject matter, added value and, of course, the content itself. Can they find this elsewhere online?
- Actionable – identifying a need or problem your customer has, and offering an efficient and effective solution. Have you resolved their search query?
- Targeted – with an aim to deliver on your intended goal, whether this is organic traffic, social amplification or link-building. Is the piece built to perform the way it should?
Achieving greatness in your space starts with taking a look at the industry landscape. Pick up the phone today to speak to us about your marketing goals and find out how great content could deliver on those objectives.